10Theoretical constructs for knowledge management


Nov 6, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)


10 Theoretical constructs for knowledge
To manage knowledge in organizations, we have to rely on concepts
and constructs that are theoretically sound, which cover the most
important areas of knowledge processes, and which are easy to
communicate and integrate in the practical action within the
organization. In the previous sections we have developed theoretical
foundations for knowledge management. As we saw, conceptually
robust theories of organizations, knowledge, and meaning processing
require rather sophisticated discussions on the nature of intelligence,
meaning, organized action, and organizational information processing.
From this theoretical basis, we should now be able to derive theoretical
constructs that are directly relevant for practical organizational life. We
should also package these theories into a form that can be integrated
into management practice. Based on the previous discussion, we
should now be able to describe the different types of knowledge in
organizations, the ways knowledge is generated, and the ways
knowledge integrates with work activities and strategic development of
organizational competencies and processes.
In Parts II and III we used a number of theoretical approaches in an
attempt to clarify the nature of intelligence and organizations. Loosely
speaking, they all can be described as phenomenological approaches,
in contrast to much of the extant theory that has been based on
objectivistic epistemologies, information processing, and cognitivism.
Based on those theoretical considerations, I argued that the focal
units of organizational knowledge creation can be viewed as
communities. Organizations themselves can be conceptualized as
almost autopoietic systems whose meaning structure defines what can
be information for them at the organizational level of analysis. More
fundamentally, however, organizations need to be understood within
an ecology of social systems. Based on Luhmanns analysis of social
systems as meaning processing systems, I argued that organizational
communities are systems that self-referentially process meaning.
Therefore, they can also be called cognitive systems, and the metaphor
of organizational intelligence is interesting and appropriate. The
coupling between individual cognition and organizational cognition is,
however, loose, as humans-in-society and organizations live in
phenomenally irreducible worlds. An interesting way to approach these
loose couplings is to analyze their time relations.
Organizations and organizational actors can manage their
knowledge at the various levels where knowledge exists in the
organization. At all these levels we may ask what tools and behaviors
increase the possibilities for effective action. Moreover, we may ask
whether, for example, we can design and implement organizational
structures within the focal organization that increase organizational
Vygotskys observation was that language and conceptual thinking
become tools for cognition and simultaneously change it. Language,
definitely, is one of those tools that we use to manage knowledge. The
meaning structures that underlie language embed major stocks of
social and historically developed knowledge. Luhmann, however,
pointed out that language, as a media and tool, creates tensions, which,
in turn, generate further media. As communication is inter-personal, its
success is inherently improbable. To overcome the inherent
improbability of communicative success, language emerges with media
that release tensions created by the three improbabilities of
accessibility, acceptance, and understanding. For example,
symbolically generalized meanings and conceptual systems discussed
by Vygotsky are, in Luhmanns terms, media that manage tensions in
Organizations, themselves, can also be viewed as tools, and, as
social systems, they also embed stocks of knowledge. They are, in the
Bergsonian sense, examples of organized matter, constructed from
elements available in the social world. As they are social tools, they
can simultaneously be used for multiple purposes by the different
members of society, both inside and outside the focal organization. To
maintain the organization, these purposes, however, have to be
mutually compatible. A single focal actor or motive is not sufficient in
explaining the nature of organizations. There may be several actors,
and the focus of activity may vary. Indeed, metaphorically, we could
view an organizational tool as analogous to a boat, which several
actors can board for various purposes when they want to navigate
toward the same direction. An organization can be emerge through
collaborative action, or it can be intentionally designed. In the boat
metaphor, the first case would happen when people want to sail across
an ocean and join their forces in building a boat, the second case when
an individual commissions the construction, and after the boat is ready,
sells tickets for the journey. Probably the latter better describes
traditional industrial organizations, whereas the previous more closely
describes a modern knowledge-intensive organization.
The mediated cognition view was based on Bergsons and
Vygotskys analysis of intelligence, language, and mediated thought.
Intelligence can be defined as the process that generates meaning
structures, which, in turn, underlie effective action. In this terminology,
intelligence is a continuous process, and knowledge its accumulated
product. Here, as in all biological life, several simultaneous processes
operating in different time-scales both produce and reproduce the
system. Intelligence recursively defines itself in the process that
simulateneously operates within the existing meaning structure and
changes it. Metaphorically, we could then say that intelligence is not
something that we have, or something that is; instead, it is a
process in time that enables becoming, in true Bergsonian and
biological sense. Some parts of the meaning structure provide the
background for meaning processing, and these relatively
institutionalized parts of the meaning structure we can call
knowledge structures. Other parts of the meaning structure change
when the information in the environment changes. This we could call
perception. Perception and knowledge, therefore, are not
fundamentally different. Instead, they both define what a meaningful
reality is for an intelligent being.
There is no fixed privileged position for institutionalized
meaning structures, except the fact that they are actively reproduced as
much of the meaning processing relies on them. Some core concepts
and knowledge is central to the reality we operate in, and their
reinterpretation requires a paradigm shift that rearranges a large
number of meaning relations. As soon as meaning structure changes so
that old institutionalized meaning structures are not recreated, they
disappear and new knowledge emerges. In the pragmatist view,
knowledge changes when experience so requires; however, when we
compare knowledge with perception, we can say that those meaning
relations that underlie knowledge are more sticky than those that
dynamically become organized in the process of perception.

This dynamic self-organization of meaning in the act of perception can be described
for example as a resonance between the world and our meaningful construction of it.
Indeed, this is one interpretation of Nonakas concept of
, at its most dynamic and
ephemeral form This idea has been developed by Shimizu and Yamaguchi (1987). I
have earlier noted the close correspondence between their holovision model and the
Bergsonian concept of perception (see Heinämaa & Tuomi, 1989:270).
If we reserve the word intelligence for the process of meaning
processing, and the word knowledge for relatively stable
accumulated meaning structures, cognition, in its broadest sense, can
be defined as capability for effective choice. Cognition, therefore, also
means capability to create information about the environment. What
effectiveness in each case means, depends on the acting unit, and
there are no universal criteria for it. Within the autopoietic framework
one could, however, say that to be effective, action has to maintain the
system organization, although it can at the same time change its
structure. Within the activity theoretic framework, we could say that
effectiveness of activity is measured by the correspondence between
the needs of the actor and their fulfillment by the activity.
In contrast to objectivistic theories of knowledge, we would not
and could notdefine knowledge as true justified beliefunless we
completely redefine the concept of truth, as for example Polanyi did.
This is simply because we know the world in the same way as its facts:
through socially constructed and historically developed distinctions.
The criterion for truth and knowledge is therefore pragmatic and
defined only within a community of thought. The experts in the
community define what is knowledge for the community, but their role
as experts, in turn, is defined by the community. Therefore, knowledge
evolves in the same way as the meaning of a concept changes every
time it is used in meaning processing. Knowledge is therefore not fixed
to any objective reality. Neither is knowledge subjective or truth purely
relativistic. To put it in other words, our knowledge can not strictly
speaking be false; instead, it can only make our behavior stupid
and incompetent. In some cases our incompetence is measured by
other social observers, in other cases we just unexpectedly hit our
heads into some natural walls.
The third theoretical perspective, the developmental view, focused
on the ways that knowledge changes and accumulates. In the
Vygotskian framework, the three lines of phylogenetic, ontogenetic,
and cultural development interact. Learning occurs through joint effort
among people who share a culture or praxis. Practical intelligence uses
tools that embed knowledge about practice, and intelligence is
augmented by cognitive tools. Identities of people are bound to
cultures and communities of practice that interacting and
communicating people mutually construct. Simultaneously, knowledge
also becomes defined in relation to these social formations. What
counts as effective action depends on tools and practices available
within a community, as well as on sedimented social structures.
In the developmental view, cognition, knowledge, and intelligence
are not stable. The development of knowledge structures changes the
way intelligence functions. Simultaneously it changes the criteria for
effectiveness. Ontogenic change can lead to new effective habits and
concepts; and concepts, in turn, can sediment into structural
knowledge. World is continuously constructed using language and
socialization, and this emerging world is embedded in new practices,
tools, and social structures.
10.1 Cognition and the four basic types of knowledge
Combining the meaning processing and system view with the idea of
cognitive tools enables us to make a distinction between self-
referential and direct knowledge. Instinctive knowledge, in the sense of
Bergson, is direct: it manifests itself in action without mediating tools
or mediating meaning. We may include also habits, or conditioned
reflexes, into this class of not self-referential behavior, and argue along
Polanyi that also tools can be used in instinctive fashion. Therefore
there exists knowledge that is sedimented in the meaning structure.
Self-referential knowledge, in contrast, underlies active meaning
processing. For meaning processors, the environment exists only as a
meaningful world. Therefore, reflective intelligence never accesses the
world as it is in its totality, in its objective transcendental state. The
self-referential nature of intelligence, however, makes it possible that
intelligence can reflect on the processes of cognition itself, and in this
way it can transcend the world it constructs and which is its object.
Intelligence can also access world beyond meanings indirectly by
reflecting on instinctive knowledge: following Bergson, we can call
this capability intuition.
In common language we call intelligent those agents that are not
only capable for effective action within a static environment, but who
are also able to expand their intelligence and change their knowledge
structures. Intelligence, therefore, has often been viewed as a skill in
problem solvingsomething that is brought to bear when the
environment poses a challenge and novelty is required. For example, in
common usage an intelligent person is someone who is able to
generate a solution to a problem, not someone who already knows
the answer. This view, however, should be rejected if we adopt the
terminology presented above. As Ceci and others pointed out, it is
impossible to distinguish intelligence as a process from the knowledge
that structures it. More appropriately, intelligence may be viewed as
capability to generate new knowledge, i.e., new structures that enable
effective action.
These constructs are summarized in Table 9. In the terminology of
Table 9, intelligence is an effect, whereas knowledge is the result.
They are, however, inseparable as intelligence processes meaning
based on those meaning structures that we have called knowledge. To
rephrase Heraclitus, we might say that intelligence is an ever-changing
flow and knowledge is the contour which both constrains and enables
this flow. Therefore, it is as impossible to say what intelligence is as it
is impossible to step into the same river twice. The stuff that moves in
the process is meanings, which simultaneously carve new forms in the
sedimented structure, and bring new material for emerging structures.
Then, using Leontevs concepts, we can say that the gravitation that
makes the meaning flow is the human need, and the motive of activity.
cognition (broad) capability for effective action
cognition (narrow) capability for self-referential action
knowledge (broad) structures that constrain and guide effective
knowledge (narrow) structures that constrain effective self-
referential action
intelligence (broad) capability to generate knowledge
intelligence (narrow) capability to generate self-referential
Table 9. Definitions of cognition, knowledge, and intelligence.
When we define knowledge as those structures that guide meaning
processing, we still have to give criteria that distinguishes more
accurate knowledge from less accurate. As was discussed before,
we can not assume any external or objective criteria here. Instead, we
have to adopt the pragmatic epistemological approach: knowledge is
more true if it leads to effective action.
Using these definitions, we can make a distinction between two
developmentally different types of knowledge. First, ontogenic
knowledge has its source in the development of the knowing entity. It
is something that the knowing entity learns based on its
experience. Phylogenetic knowledge, in contrast, has its source in
inherited structures. The generation of phylogenetic knowledge can not
be attributed to a specific individual entity; instead, it is trans-
generational, or collective. Often such learning is conceptualized as
adaptation and selection within an evolutionary framework.
A prototypical form of phylogenetic knowledge is instinct.
Instinctive knowledge embeds interactions with the world that result
from a history of mutual co-ontogenesis, or structural drift, of the
knowing entity and its object of action. If the knowing entity is a unit
in a higher-order system, however, such inherited structure may be
embedded in a society. A special case of this is a culture, where the
units of culture inherit meaning structures through language and social
practice. Individual humans-in-society do not invent culture on their
own; instead, their development as humans-in-society make them
Meanings are typically fluid and they are fixed to the environment
only indirectly, through signs. Intelligent signs, using Bergsons
terminology, refer to a meaningful world that is constructed by active
meaning processing. Instinctive signs, in turn, refer to the environment
that is the object of meaning-free interactions. Signs and symbolically
generalized meanings provide a relatively stable basis around which
meaning processing and inter-personal communication becomes
possible. However, the underlying system of meaning processing is in
continuous change. Even though some symbolically generalized
meanings may be sedimented into the structure of language, they are
not fixed in relation to anything, including objects external to the
meaning system.
In contrast, habitual and instinctive knowledge is embedded
outside the meaning system. Active meaning processing uses such
sedimented meaning structures as the background context against
which meanings are processed and where intelligence operates. Often
such knowledge is sedimented in the phylogenetic structure as
instincts. Sedimentation, however, can also happen during the lifetime
of the knowing entity, and such ontogenic and sedimented knowledge
can be called learned structural knowledge. Figure 22 shows these four
basic types of knowledge.
ont ogeni c
(l earned)
phyl ogenet i c
generat i onal )
sel f-referenti al
(acti ve)
sedi ment ed
(structural )
cogni t i ve
habi t ual
soci o-cul t ural
i nsti ncti ve
Figure 22. Four basic types of knowledge.
As Vygotsky and Leontev noted, cognitive and socio-cultural
forms of knowledge are in constant interaction. Their genetic source
may be different, but they are indistinguishable as constraints and
enablers of meaning processing. Moreover, cognition operates within a
socio-cultural context. As Fleck pointed out:
Every epistemological theory is trivial that does not take this
sociological dependence of all cognition into account in a
fundamental and detailed manner. But those who consider social
dependence a necessary evil and an unfortunate human inadequacy
which ought to be overcome fail to realize that without social
conditioning no cognition is even possible. Indeed, the very word
cognition acquires meaning only in connection with a thought
collective. (Fleck, 1979:42)
10.2 Knowledge as product, constraint, and competence
Within an organization, we have several perspectives on knowledge.
First, knowledge can be viewed as an accumulated resource that
underlies capabilities. Knowledge makes some types of performance
possible. These accumulated possibilities for action we can call
competencies. Second, knowledge can be viewed as a structure that
constrains activity, and which makes some actions effective. Third,
knowledge can be viewed as a product. As a product, knowledge can
change existing constraints for actions, and lead to development. These
three perspectives and the constructs they generate are shown in Figure
constrai nt product
accumul at es
generat esgui des
Figure 23. Three perspectives on knowledge.
The focal issue for accumulated resources is their deployment. In
organizations knowledge resources manifest themselves, for example,
as customer relationships, core competencies, accumulated best
practices, and anecdotes. Some of this knowledge capital is sedimented
into organizational structures (Nelson & Winter, 1982; Walsh &
Ungson, 1991). For example, logistic networks, customer interfaces,
and core processes may be institutionalized within the organization.
Other forms of knowledge capital may be embedded in documents,
including patents, strategy documents, customer agreements, and
product designs. These, however, are knowledge products that become
knowledge resources only to the extent that they are used as cognitive
tools in competent activity. Indeed, in most cases knowledge is
produced because it is expected that someone will use it as a resource.
In the extant literature on knowledge management, the focus has
often been on the resource perspective (e.g., Sveiby, 1997; Stewart,
1997; Edvinsson & Malone, 1997; Brooking, 1996). However, at the
same time knowledge has also been viewed as a product. As a result, it
has been assumed that a design or a document can be valuable as such,
without considering the activity in which this value is realized. Often,
two different types of knowledge resources have been distinguished:
human capital and structural capital. The underlying idea has been, for
example, that human competencies walk out of the door every night,
whereas structural capital stays in the company. In economic terms,
this has been thought to mean that human capital can only be rented,
whereas structural capital can be owned by the company.
The division of intellectual capital into human capital and
structural capital is problematic as it distinguishes knowledge
components based on the level of analysis. Human capital looks,
then, like an aggregate sum of individual competencies, and structural
capital is the rest, i.e., the surplus that remains when this theoretical
aggregation of individual intellectual capital is subtracted from the
capabilities of the focal organization. Spender (1995) makes a similar
distinction between individual and social knowledge. In some cases
this approach could be useful; more generally, however, individual
competencies exist only in relation to organizational systems of
activity, which, in turn, only exist within systems of activity that
integrate the focal organization with activity systems in its
environment. Therefore, one could as well say that human capital does
not walk out of the door when the factory bell rings; instead, people
go home and their competencies remain within the organized system of
activity. To put it in other words: it is as impossible for a company to
own human capital, as it is for an employee to be a salesman of the
year, without a product to sell.
Knowledge processes at the different meta-levels in an
organization can not be separated as individuals are essentially
individuals-in-society, and their knowledge is collectively generated
and used. We could then ask, what goes out of the door when people
go home? Strictly speaking, it cannot be competence or knowledge
capital. What happens is that activity gets discontinued, and motives
that relate to organizational activity become latent. Knowing happens
in activity, whichto borrow Leontevs formulationis an inherently
social category.
Most of the time, knowledge structures that underlie activity and
determine operations are not explicitly articulated or reified. We
simply use these knowledge structures as a backdrop against which the
moving images of meaning relations are projected. Following Polanyi
(1998; 1967), these background knowledge structures can be called
tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge then refers to articulated and focal
self-referential knowledge, for example, concepts, images, and plans.
In some cases, the constraints, however, are not within our meaning
processing system, but, for example, based on structural couplings with
the environment. In such cases, we may call the constraints instinctive,
and the related capability a natural skill.
Using these constructs we can relate the various types of
constraints to the corresponding levels of analysis of activity as in
Table 10.

This has implications also for the development of intellectual capital measurement
systems at organizational and national levels. For example, educational certificates
should be seen as social signs of appreciation, nbot as indicators of underlying
capability. Individual capability depends on those systems of activity where they are
realized; education certificates often relate to decontextualized capabilities or
skills that are assumed to be independent of the underlying system of social and
collective activity. Therefore, it is questionable that a generic measurement system for
skills could be developed. The appropriate level of aggregation of skills is also a
major theoretical problem. For example, Thurows model of job queues probably
better explains the nature of educational certificates than any link with productivity or
capability (Tuomi, 1992b). According to Thurow (1975), certificates are used mainly
to by-pass competitors in job competition, and much of the educational effort should
be understood as a defensive cost.
motive tacit knowledge 
goal explicit

action tacit knowledge instinctive,
habitual, and
Table 10. Levels of activity and types of knowledge constraints.
The main distinction between constraints at the level of operations
and at the level of actions is that operations show skillful behavior
and capability to go on in an actual situation in all its complexity,
whereas actions are reflective articulations and plans within an
abstracted meaningful situation. Using Giddens (1984) term, actions
within a system of activity require knowledgeable social agents.
However, this is so only at the level of actions. Activity, although it
requires the existence of such knowledgeable social agents, is based
entirely on tacit knowing. In contrast to operations that occur in the
context of articulated goals, the motives driving activity are not
articulated or conscious. Instead, activity emerges itself as an
articulation of a situation where potential fulfillment of a need creates
a motive. Although a conscious subject may reflect on his or her needs
and activities and, for example, change them, activity in itself is not
based on conscious reflection and articulation of meaning structures.

Reproduction and expansion of social activity
When knowledge structures constrain action, the goal for the action is
fixed and the focal issue is the effectiveness of knowledge. Within a
given stock of knowledge, action can be unintelligent, for example, a
mistake or an error. In many cases an external observer can argue that
some action could be viewed within a broader or different stock of
knowledge, and within that context the action is dysfunctional.
Therefore, knowledge can be contested. This can happen when there is
another external stock of knowledge that is used as a reference.
Knowledge can, however, also be contested as a result of
knowledge creation. A mistake may be detected by reflecting on past
action and by reinterpreting it. Knowledge, therefore, plays a dual role:
it guides activity by coordinating actions and by reproducing social
structure, butthrough generation of new knowledgeit also changes
activity and existing routines. By producing knowledge, organizations
change their world, simultaneously changing the criteria for intelligent
action within the organization. Knowledge can be produced to produce
If there is lack of relevant knowledge, or if existing knowledge is
wrong and creates anomalies, a need for new knowledge emerges.
The third perspective on knowledge in Figure 23 is the one that sees
knowledge as a product that can be used to change existing meaning
structures. Therefore, we may also consider the effectiveness of the
production of knowledge in itself. This meta-level consideration views
knowledge production as an end in itselfas a process that
accumulates stocks of knowledge, and reconfigures constraints for
activity in ways that, for example, overcome anticipated threats or
realize anticipated opportunities.
Knowledge is also viewed as product in those organizations that
actually market knowledge that they have generated. As the discussion
above shows, such knowledge products are only a tip of an iceberg
in even the most knowledge-based organizations. In some cases such
knowledge products can be packaged and sold, for example, as
consulting services, reports, databases, or tools. This metaphorical way
of viewing knowledge as a product that can be transferred from one
organization to another, however, easily misses the point that
knowledge is something that is integrated into social processes. It is a
conceptual category error to assert that knowledge, for example, exists
on pieces of paper. Instead, pieces of paper, at best, trigger processes
that change organizational knowledge structures. Therefore, an
organization does not become more knowledgeable just by adding
knowledge products on top of it, or by providing its employees the
best information available. A more accurate metaphor for knowledge
products would be to see them as catalysts for organizational learning
processes. Without connecting external knowledge products into
organizational knowledge processes, these products are, in most cases,
just piles of paper. This is so for even the most structured knowledge
products. For example, a database of mailing addresses typically has
value only if the focal organization has a system of activity that needs
addresses to mail letters.
Knowledge products, do not, however, exist only in externalized
form, for example, as documents. Knowledge stocks also define what
it is to be the organization in question, and a change in these stocks
redefine organizational identity. Such knowledge is not necessarily
articulated but it can be directly acted in organizational practice. It can
be, for example, inherently bound with organizational activity.
Knowledge products can be embedded in tools that are used in
organizational practice, and knowledge production can produce new
forms of activity by creation of new organizational motive systems and
practices. Simultaneously, however, knowledge production also
maintains and reproduces existing motive systems and identity in the
Knowledge can then be viewed as a generator of two fundamentally
different but integrated system phenomena. On the other hand,
knowledge processes underlie organizational change. This change can
be expansion of activities, extension of activities into new domains, or
renewal by changing organizational identity, culture, and practices. But
as was pointed out before, knowledge also underlies organizational
stability. Organizational stocks of knowledge define its routines, its
language, practices, culture, and identity. In addition, organizational
knowledge underlies reproduction of these structures by coordination,
either explicitly by communication, or implicitly via social institutions.
Knowledge processes, therefore, can be seen as fundamental drivers
for organizational life. Without knowledge, organizations would have
no stability, and could not maintain themselves. But knowledge also
drives these self-maintaining systems as dynamic and changing
entities. Schematically, organizations can therefore be viewed as two
mutually constitutive modes of existencestability and change
which are driven by organizational knowledge processes. These
relations are symbolically depicted in Figure 24. A simple way to
rephrase the idea of Figure 24 is to say that knowledge is the media
between stability and change.
Figure 24. Knowledge between stability and change.
Knowledge management, therefore, needs to address organizational
knowledge from several different directions. We need to manage
knowledge resources, for example, skills, competence, and expertise.
However, we also need to manage knowledge as it constrains and
enables social activity and praxis. In addition, we need to manage the
actual articulated knowledge products, such as product designs,
documents; but also more fundamental organizational assets: its
identity, language, and system of motives. Most important, we need to
manage the balance between organizational stability and change.
One could say that the most limited and valuable resource at the
times of change is stability. To manage stability, we have to
understand and manage change. Therefore, a critical task for
knowledge management is to understand those processes that underlie
the generation of knowledge. The next section, therefore, briefly
describes some current views on how people and organizations learn
and create knowledge. I shall discuss several different types of
learning, and analyze then in more detail an influential model of
knowledge creation developed by Nonaka and Takeuchi. After that, I
shall introduce a new model for organizational knowledge creation that
addresses some of the limitations of the extant models.
10.3 Learning and knowledge creation
Learning has often been understood as the process of knowledge
acquisition or as transfer of knowledge from one individual to another.
We talk about learning as synonymous to internalization of new
knowledge, as creation of knowledge, or as development of new skills.
As was discussed before, more generally, learning can be understood
as a process that develops knowledge structures, thereby changing
capabilities that underlie intelligent action. Learning may be viewed as
a change in activity, in the structure of behavior, and in a persons
mode of engagement in social practices (Packer, 1993:264). It is
change in mindmetanoia, as Senge (1990) calls itbut also change
that is reflected in action.
Bergson noted that both instinct and intelligence involve
knowledge. We could say that instinct and habit embody knowledge,
and that intelligence both produces and processes knowledge.
Embodiment of knowledge is, however, relative to a specific
biological organism. In the case of a living species, the primary time-
scale that distinguishes instinct, habit, and intelligence is that of the
life-time of an individual member of the species. Ontogenic
development happens, by definition, during the life-time of an
individual unit. In biological organisms structural phylogenetic
knowledge may develop through maturation, but even in those cases,
the process of maturation is inherited.
Those forms of knowledge that depend on ontogenic development,
i.e., history of a specific individual, or unit of learning, we called
ontogenic knowledge. Learning, most often, is used to refer to the
development of ontogenic knowledge. Cognitive theories of learning
focused on self-referential ontogenic development, i.e., change in the
meaning structure; whereas behaviorists focused on change that was
independent of self-referential meaning processing. Pavlov, with his
second signaling system was more or less conceptualizing learning
as meaning processing habits. As was noted above, in discussing
Figure 22, the different types of learning, however, can not easily be
classified based on the distinction between ontogenic and phylogenetic
development. A cognitive being does not know whether its meaning
structures originated from inter-generational processes or not. Instead,
what matters to it is the fact that some meaning structures are difficult
to change.
When we distinguish four different types of knowledge
cognitive, habitual, instinctive, and socialwe can see that, as the
name indicated, the sedimented forms of knowledge are difficult to
change. These sedimented knowledge structures appear to the knower
and learner as given meaning structures against which cognitive
learning happens. Although these sedimented structures may change,
they change slowly.
Inter-generational phylogenetic knowledge is sedimented into the
structure of the organism. As a first approximation, such innate
knowledge can be taken to be static within the life-time of an
individual. Habitual knowledge, in contrast, emerges as a result of
ontogenic development. Within the time-scales of active cognitive
processing, habits, however, are static. Although they are not fixed in
relation to the life-time of the living unit, they are sedimented in
relation to the time-scales of active meaning processing. Habits,
therefore, bridge the two time-scales of phylogenetic structural drift
and meaning processing. In this sense, we could also say that habits
bridge mind and body, by embedding meaning into body.
The distinction between inter-generational and intra-generational
learning leads to the concepts of instinct and intelligence, in the
Bergsonian sense. These concepts assume that learning and
development can be understood simply by focusing on an individual
organism. However, as was discussed above, developmental processes
may also extend the boundaries of a single individual learner in
another direction: learning can occur in the time-scale of ontogenic
development, but it may be collective. On the inter-unit level of
analysis we could, for example, talk about collective conceptual
learning and collective habit formation. The former could be
understood as cognitive learning at the social level, whereas the latter
could be viewed as structural collective learning. An example of
collective structural learning could be development of new social
practice or routine. However, it should be noted that, although social
practice and routines may be difficult to change, the reason is not
because they would be embedded somewhere outside the world of
cognition; instead, their rigidity results from the fact that they are
reproduced and reified by many different social actors, and no single
actor can easily change them.
When we talk about phylogenetic learning, it becomes clear that
there is a problem: what exactly is the focal unit that learns? Although
we can say that a species of hymenoptera has learned to sting its
victims in their nervous centres, destroying the power of movement of
their victims without killing them, it is difficult to see who actually has
been the focal unit of learning. In our everyday parlance, an insect
species does not learn, instead it adapts. In the terminology of
Maturana and Varela, the system becomes structurally coupled with its
We could then make a further distinction based on two types of
structural learning: some structural couplings develop during the
ontogenic time-scale, others develop across generations. In the inter-
generational time-scale the individual and social dimensions become
blurred, and learning does not happen purely socially or individually.
Instead, we might say that in this domain learning is fundamentally
collective. The process of learning can not, therefore, be understood
from the point of view of any specific individual. Instead, as Bergson
pointed out, it is a process where the relations between a unit and its
environment evolve gradually in a population of individuals. This is
what Maturana and Varela called structural drift.
The definitions given above enable us to talk both of individual
learning and social learning, organizational learning comprising
aspects of both. These different types of learning are represented in
Figure 25. The arrow at the bottom of the figure indicates that some
social knowledge created within one generation eventually becomes
sedimented in the socio-cultural stocks of knowledge that will be
available for the subsequent generations. In the social domain we could
say that some acquired characteristics are inherited.
i ndi vi dual
knowl edge
gener at i on
condi t i oned
ref l exes /
habi t
f or mat i on
cul t ural
knowl edge
gener at i on
f ormat i on of
rout i nes
i ndi vi dual
soci al
cogni ti ve structural
ont ogeni c (acqui red) i nheri t ed
phyl ogenet i c
st ruct ural
coupl i ng
soci o-
cul t ural
st ocks
Figure 25. The five types of learning.
As was noted before, learning can change both self-referential meaning
processing and non-referential behavior. The formation of habits
requires meaning processing, for example perception, but in the
performance of a habit, meaning processing is not necessarily needed.
In this sense, habits and conditioned reflexes can be independent of
cognitive meaning processing. Developmentally, habit formation
originates from cognitive meaning processing, but after a habit is
formed, it loses some of its cognitive characteristics. We can, however,
also call some forms of mental change as formation of mental habits.
For example, during ontogenic development animal retina may change
its synaptic connections so that it detects specific forms, such as lines,
edges, or moving objects. Or we may associate a sound with the
immediate availability of food, or a voice with a person. Such changed
meaning processing structures can be seen as constraints and enablers
in our meaning processing even when they are not actively part of the
self-referential and recursive meaning processing itself. Instead, such
mental habits provide a relatively stable context against which the
meaning processing happens.
Most human learning happens through change in meaning
relations. As the meaning processing system is self-referential,
whenever a meaning reference changes the whole system of meanings
changes. This is the holistic character of meaning that was pointed out
by Luhmann. New meanings are created, or the structure of already
available meanings change.
Some meaning relations, however, are more central than others. If
we understand concepts as such central clusters of meaning, we can see
that re-organization of our conceptual structure equals to major change
in our meaning structure. Moreover, as we use our concepts as
cognitive tools that enable new forms of thinking, re-interpretation of
our concepts also meansin addition of changing our realitythat we
have a different set of cognitive tools available. For example, we may
acquire qualitatively new forms of thinking.
Here one could argue that the system of meaning undergoes
development within the Vygotskian model that was described before:
spontaneous concepts emerge as perceptually coherent ways to
interpret a meaningful world, evolving to diffuse complexes that
eventually become fixed within a conceptual system. As a result, a new
reality, interpretation, and related praxis emerge. When the relations
that bind central concepts of such realities are changed, the world is
fundamentally changed. Meaning that was subsidiary becomes now
focal. This is what Fleck (1979) called a thought style, tightly
connected to the underlying community and its practices, and what
Kuhn (1970) meant by paradigms. As Polanyi said such change is
irreversible. Where a moment ago we saw a duck, now we see a rabbit
(Kuhn, 1970:114). A new rich panorama of significant details is
revealed, and the learner has entered a new world (Polanyi, 1998:101).
If the change occurs as a result of symbolic thinking, new concepts
can be created. If the change occurs as a result of communication, new
concepts can be adopted. Communication may be articulated as
language; more generally, however, communication, i.e., coordination
of social interaction, results in learning through socialization. In some
cases, learning can be an intended consequence of social interaction
and we can call it training. In other social situations, learning can
happen unintentionally through imitation, adaptation and sensemaking.
Training typically involves all available modes of learning, and it may
be viewed as a highly developed form of social behavior which tries to
make effective learning possible. This intention, however, is at least
partly based on our extant theories of knowledge development and
learning, and, as such, there is no guarantee that the institutionalized
forms of training are effective in practice. For example, when learning
is assumed to result from transfer of knowledge, the role of
socialization and practice is easily underestimated.
In summary, then, we have several different types of learning, and
different types of processes that underlie behavioral change. We can
not simply discuss individual cognitive learning without considering
the other forms that constrain and enable individual cognitive change.
Most important, we can expect that these various forms of learning
differ both in their dynamics, i.e., the time scales that characterize
them, and in the level of analysis that characterizes them. In addition,
the advanced forms of learning rely on the cognitive subsystem and, in
the case of humans, on language. Therefore, individual learning is
inherently social. I return to this topic later in more detail.
10.3.1 Process models for learning
Learning is often irreversible change. Although simple adaptation does
not necessarily assume irreversibility, in most cases we expect that
learning creates new ways of acting and thinking. Unlearning can
occur as a result of loss of memory, but often it happens as a result of
learning something new that makes old learning obsolete. It is
therefore natural to model learning as a cycle. Indeed, most models of
learning are based on cycles. The phases of learning follow each other,
and the process of learning itself becomes as a repeating and
irreversible process.
A simple and in organization theory very influential model has
been proposed by Argyris and Schön (1978). This model adapts a
Batesonian model of learning.
Batesons (1973) analysis of the levels of learning was based on
classification of the different types of error that needs to be corrected
through the learning process. First, according to Bateson, zero learning
happens when a specific response occurs that is not subjected to
correction. Learning I, in turn, is characterized by change in response,
by selecting a new response from a set of available ones. Learning II
occurs when the set of such alternatives is changed. Learning III occurs
when the process underlying Learning II is changed. Finally, Learning
IV would be change in the process of Learning III. According to
Bateson, such learning probably does not occur in any adult living
organism, but the combination of phylogenesis with ontogenesis
achieves Level IV.
Bateson notes that the outcomes of Learning IIunconscious
habitsfrequently and necessarily lead the individual to double bind
situations. The habit once acquired becomes self-defeating in a similar
but structurally altered social context, or two mutually exclusive
responses are needed at the same time. One may compare this model
with the Piagetian model. According to Piaget, learning consists of
accommodation and assimilation. Assimilation is the process of
adjusting to the current situation, whereas accommodation happens
when the current situation is reinterpreted and when the cognitive
model that is used in the interpretation is changed. In the model of
Argyris and Schön, direct adaptation is called single-loop learning
and accommodation is called double-loop learning. This model is
depicted in Figure 26.
mat ch
si ngl e-l oop
doubl e-l oop
act i ons
governi ng
vari abl es
mi smat ch
Figure 26. Organizational learning as correction of system error.
Another influential model has been proposed by Kolb (1984). Kolb
calls his model experiential learning model. In this model, shown in
Figure 27, learning occurs through sequence of phases where concrete
experiences generate an opportunity for observation and reflection,
which in turn lead the to creation of new concepts and models that are
then tested in novel situations.
concret e
experi ences
observat i on
and refl ecti on
f ormat i on of
abst ract
concept s and
theori es
testi ng i mpl i cati ons
of theory i n new
si tuati ons
Figure 27. Kolb's learning model.
According to Kolb, learners need four different types of skills to
make the learning cycle effective. They have to be able to engage
openly and without prejudgement in new experiences, reflect and
observe their experiences from many perspectives, create concepts that
integrate observations into logically sound theories, and, finally, use
these theories in decision making and problem solving (Kolb,
Kolb has argued that his model is based on the learning theories of
Dewey and Lewin, which according to Kolb take experience as their
starting point. However, the connection between Kolbs model and
Deweys conception of the learning process is rather loose. Miettinen
(1998b) has compared these models in detail, and argues that Kolbs
model is incompatible with Deweys model, and that Kolbs model is
actually a collection of theoretically unrelated concepts. In Deweys
model, learning starts when unconscious routine breaks down, and
when a problem emerges that needs to be solved. This leads to problem
definition and conceptualization, a working hypothesis, a thought
experiment where the hypothesis is tested, and experimental action,
where the hypothesis is confirmed. In Deweys model, therefore,
experience and action can not be separated as two independent modes
of being. There is no open and unprejudiced engagement in
experience; on the contrary, all experience is completely colored by
our assumptions concerning the normal routine way things are
supposed to be. We become conscious of our experience only when
our taken-for-granted approach to the world breaks down. Strictly
speaking, an open unprejudiced experience is impossible, as concrete
experience, in Kolbs sense, exists only as a difference from our
expectations. Also, whereas Kolb assumes that experience is more or
less a mental phenomenon, in Deweys thinking experience is closely
related to practical action. Moreover, despite the close similarity
between the words experiential and experimental, they imply a
very different view on the learning process. As Miettinen points out, in
Deweys model experimental activity is activity where a new form of
behavior is tested. Deweys model, as defined by Miettinen (1998b), is
shown in Figure 28.
1. i nterrupti on i n
routi ne acti on
2. probl em
defi ni ti on and
conceptual i zati on
3. defi ni ti on of a worki ng
hypot hesi s
probl em sol vi ng,
return to routi ne
4. i nference and
t hought experi ment
5. experi ment al
acti on
i dea,
Figure 28. Learning cycle according to Dewey.
Engeström (1999:383-4) has described a learning cycle that can be
related to Deweys ideas. In Engeströms model, the first step is
similar to that in Deweys model. A problem emerges that requires a
solution. In the next step, the problem is analyzed. Based on the
created understanding of the problem, a solution model is produced, its
characteristics are studied, and a promising solution is implemented.
These steps map closely with Deweys model. However, Engeström
adds an intermediate step between experimental action and
consolidation of the new practice. This is reflection on the process.
Engeströms model also inherently incorporates the idea that learning
is a social process that develops new forms of activity and practice. In
Engeströms words: The expansive cycle begins with individual
subjects questioning the accepted practice, and it gradually expands
into a collective movement or institution (1999:383). Engeströms
learning cycle is depicted in Figure 29.
Although these models share a number of characteristics, there are
also major differences. The most important of these is the unit of
analysis. In the model of Argyris and Schön, the unit that learns is an
organization. In Deweys model it is an individual. In Engeströms
model, the learning occurs in a community of people. In Kolbs model,
the unit of analysis is ambiguous, and the model has been used to
explain individual, team, and organizational learning.
Although, for example, Kolbs model may be theoretically
incoherent as Miettinen argues, it has been widely used by
organizational practitioners. It is easy to see why it has often been
accepted without hesitation: to organize learning it helps a lot if we
can separate different activities required for organizational learning.
For example, it is easy to set up a meeting that specifically reflects on
organizational experiences, and another one that tries to formulate
and articulate models that can improve organizational action. If Kolbs
model would be interpreted in the Vygotskian framework, we could
say that it might be possible to apply it in a collective context where
people may borrow each others cognition. However, one should
note that the orginal motivation for applying Kolbs model in
organizational contexts was that it was supposed to be a model of how
people learn. The idea was that this is how learning happens, and so
this is how it should be organized to happen. However, the critics of
Kolb would say that this is not how learning happens, and therefore the
use of the model in organizational contexts requires some justification.
In addition, it is, of course, not obvious that the same learning
processes that undelie individual learning also describe collective
In Engeströms model this problem is to a large extent avoided, as
it assumes that learning is from the start related to a change in social
practice. This also means that a distributed cognition view is built in
to the model. For example, Engeström (1999:401) describes an
analysis of a meeting where the various actors drive the different
stages in the process. A team coordinator starts the meeting by
proposing a model of the problem, which leads another team member
to questioning, followed by a third member propose an analysis of the
situation, etc. In contrast to Deweys model, Engeströms model is not
intended to be a model of an individuals learning process; instead, it
describes learning in work groups or whole organizations.
1. quest i oni ng
2. anal ysi s
3. model i ng t he
new sol ut i on
4. exami ni ng t he
5. i mpl ement i ng
t he model
6. ref l ect i ng on
t he process
7. consol i dat i ng t he
new pract i ce
Figure 29. Engeström's learning cycle.
In comparing the models presented above, we can easily see that the
model proposed by Argyris and Schön applies the Piagetian model in a
rather straightforward way to organizations. Organizations learn just
like individual people. However, the social aspect enters the model of
Argyris and Schön through the governing variables. People have
theories of the social world, and these theories are constructed through
mutual action and socialization. Organizational behavior, however, is
based on unarticulated theories of behavior that contradict the
espoused theories in a systematical way. Therefore, in most
organizations learning is inefficient. It can only be based on detecting
errors between produced results and expected results, and if the
expectations are not known, learning can not happen. Therefore, if an
organization wants to improve its learning capability, it has to
articulate those assumptions that underlie its behavior. These
assumptions Argyris and Schön call theory-in-use. Although such a
reflection phase is not explicitly shown in their model, it is actually a
key aspect of organizational learning in the model.
Kolbs model may be inadequate as a theoretically justified model
of learning, but it can be used in a context where the process of
learning is distributed both in time and among people. However, as
there is no solid theoretical foundation for the model, it is an open
question whether it is useful to structure organizational learning
processes along the lines proposed by Kolb.
Deweys model, as described by Miettinen, is theoretically a more
robust description of the process of learning. It shares, however, with
the other cycle models the assumption that there are sequential steps in
the learning process. For example, as represented above, Dewey
assumes that the definition of a working hypothesis is a separate stage
from the inference and thought experiment where this hypothesis is
tested. It is, however, possible to assume that there is a constant
interplay with the articulation of the working hypothesis and testing it.
Moreover, there may be several working hypotheses simultaneously
under development, and the selection of one as the basis for
experimental action may happen in parallel, depending on the
attractiveness of the alternatives. It would also be consistent to expect
that, as soon as an experimental action starts to indicate that there is a
problem in the working hypothesis, the hypothesis becomes redefined.
Indeed, we could say that within the Dewey cycle there is recursion:
whenever, any of the phases in the model do not proceed fluently, they
become problems on their own, and launch a new cycle of learning.
These are the types of action-related thinking which Schön described
as reflection-in-action.
10.3.2 Social learning
Now, we can once again ask who it is that learns? Can there be other
subjects in addition to an individual-in-society that learn? Is it possible
that organizations learn?
Nonaka and Takeuchi maintain that this is not possible. New
knowledge cannot be created by society or an organization, and an
individual is the learner:
In a strict sense, knowledge is created only by individuals
Organizational knowledge creation, therefore, should be understood
as a process that organizationally amplifies the knowledge created
by individuals and crystallizes it as a part of the knowledge network
of the organization. (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995:59)
Similarly, Bood (1998:216) asserts that it is generally accepted
that organizations do not learn, only their members do.
Argyris, in contrast, argues that there are both individual and social
elements in organizational learning. In his view, individuals are
walking social structures (Argyris, 1993:36). For Argyris, the main
problem in organizational learning is resistance to change and
dysfunctionalities that inhibit learning. Argyris and Schön assume that
human actors design their actions in a social context, and that they use
learned theories of effective action which they bring to bear of any
given situation (Argyris & Schön, 1978). According to them, there are
two types of theories of action: espoused theories and theories-in-use.
Theories-in-use are learned through socialization, and espoused
theories are collectively shared (Argyris, 1993).
As was noted above, human learning is inherently social and bound
to social practices. Vygotskys main thesis was that higher mental
functions are first acquired on the social plane, and only subsequently
they become available for internal operations. Moreover, when they
are internalized, their structure and function change.
The individual learner is not a solitary identity, who absorbs and
internalizes existing knowledge in the learning process. Instead, the
individual, as a learner and an identity, is fundamentally constructed
through the same social process that makes the individual a member of
a community. We are who we are through memberships in such
communities. One could say that although we are individual bodies, in
some biological sense, our identity is not inside our bodies but exists in
the social world. Our intelligence constructs the world around this
identity, and therefore our perception and thinking rest on collective
basis. As Leontev argued:
The real foundation of human personality is not in the stored genetic
programs, nor in natural inclinations or instincts; nor even in acquired
habits, knowledge and skills, including professional ones; instead, it
is in that system of activity which these knowledges and skills realize.
(Leont'ev, 1978:153)
Human activity is inherently social. When we conceptualize
learning, we should therefore be careful in defining the subject that
learns. In the conventional view, the subject is the common-sense unit:
an individual person who has the capability to acquire knowledge.
However, one could claim that person is a category error that puts
identityan essentially social constructat the level of extended
material objects, and sees it erroneously as something bound to a
biological body. If this is so, we need to reconceptualize the idea of
learning as a process of knowledge acquisition, and replace it with a
relational view that has a more sophisticated understanding of the
social nature of knowledge.
Indeed, we could say that the subject that learns is a human-in-
society. As almost all human knowledge, including practical
knowledge, is in this domain, almost all learning happens in this
phenomenal domain. The main mechanisms for such learning are
social participation, and individual and collective concept formation. In
the former case, knowledge exists within the culture but is not yet
appropriated by the focal human-in-society. For example, there may
exist a social practice that is new to a novice who just starts to learn it.
In the case of concept formation, knowledge is created in a symbolic
domain. Individual concept formation is based on cognitive processes
within the human-in-society, and it may be reflective or intuitive.
Collective concept formation is based on communicating humans-in-
society that together create socially new concepts, which may be
reflected in new forms of activity, speech, and artifacts.
As Vygotsky pointed out, thinking is an advanced mental function,
which is profoundly transformed as a result of emergence of verbal
thinking. Verbal thinking, in turn, is social in it origin. Therefore, we,
as languaging and reflecting beings, are individuals whose
individuality is largely sociocultural. Indeed, we might ask whether
human individuals should be understood as some kind of

The page number refers to the Finnish 1977 translation. The English translation
(p.113) uses the term wisdom in place of skill.
concentrations or carriers of social systems, and to what extent their
individualityit at allcan be associated with the body that
mediates these social-historical influences.
Vygotsky explained the dynamics of social interaction in the
development of child using the concept of zone of proximal
development (Vygotsky, 1978:84-91). This has several interpretations,
which Lave and Wenger classify in three categories (Lave & Wenger,
1991). First, the zone of proximal development may be characterized
as the distance between problem-solving abilities exhibited by a
learner working alone, and that learners problem-solving abilities
when collaborating with more experienced people. This is the so-called
 scaffolding interpretation, where a parent or teacher provides support
that is necessary for the learner during the initial learning phase, but
which becomes unnecessary and can be removed as soon as this phase
is over. The second interpretation is a  cultural interpretation. It
construes the zone of proximal development as the distance between
the cultural knowledge provided by the sociohistorical context and the
everyday experience of individuals. In this interpretation the distance
between understood knowledge and active knowledge defines the zone
of proximal development. The third interpretation views the zone of
proximal development in a  collectivistic perspective. In this context,
the zone of proximal development is the distance between everyday
actions and new forms of social action that can be collectively
generated. The first two interpretations, therefore, focus on an
individual learner in a social context, whereas the third focuses on
collective learning.
Lave and Wenger argue that learning involves the whole person,
not only in relation to specific activities, but also in relation to social
communities. In their view, learning only partly implies becoming able
to be involved in new activities, to perform new tasks, or to master
new understandings:
Activities, tasks, functions, and understandings do not exist in
isolation; they are part of broader systems of relations in which they
have meaning. These systems of relations arise out of and are
reproduced and developed within social communities, which are in
part systems of relations among persons. The person is defined by as
well as defines these relationsTo ignore this aspect of learning is to
overlook the fact that learning involves the construction of identities.
(Lave & Wenger, 1991:53)
To Lave and Wenger, development of human knowing happens
through participation in an ongoing social world. Learning is not
acquisition of knowledge, but increasing participation in a community
of practice. Knowledge is not something that can be found in
knowledge domains of facts and know-how. Instead it is mastership
of practice within a community that defines what this mastership
means. Learning involves changing membership status in these
communities of practice, from entrance as a novice newcomer, to being
an expert old-timer, and eventually being replaced by new newcomers.
The idea of learning as internalization of knowledge therefore is
misleading. Knowledge in a community of practice is constantly
negotiated in the community, and the identity of a member in the
community, the membership status, and expert community practices
are mutually constitutive.
One way to think learning is as the historical production,
transformation, and change of persons (Lave & Wenger, 1991:51).
This metanoia, in Senges (1990) terminology, however, is understood
this time in a context of social practice. Identities of persons may be
conceived as long-term, living relations between persons, and as
reproduced locations and participation in communities of practice. As
was noted before, Lave and Wenger introduced the concept of
legitimate peripheral participation to explain this process of learning.
Legitimate peripheral participators enter the community of practice as
newcomers, and through their engagement in community practices
learn the skills of masters of this practice. Legitimate peripheral
participation refers to both the development of knowledgeable skilled
identities and to the reproduction and transformation of communities
of practice.
Lave and Wenger introduced the concept of community of practice
to describe how apprentices become experts. This process has also
been called cognitive apprenticeship (e.g., Collins, Brown, & Newman,
1989; Orr, 1990; Teles, 1993). Cognitive apprenticeship sees learning
as enculturation and attempts to promote learning within the nexus of
activity, tool, and culture that they together define. Brown, Collins,
Duguid (1989) have a Vygotskian emphasis on the role of cognitive
To explore the idea that concepts are both situated and progressively
developed through activity, use should abandon any notion that they
are abstract, self-contained entities. Instead, it may be more useful to
consider conceptual knowledge as, in some ways, similar to a set of
toolsThe community and its viewpoint, quite as much as the tool
itself, determine how a tool is used. Thus carpenters and cabinet
makers use chisels differently. Because tools and the way they are
used reflect the particular accumulated insights of communities, it is
not possible to use a tool appropriately without understanding the
community or culture in which it is used.
The process of becoming a competent expert within a community
may be represented as in Figure 30.
novi ces
expert s
"ol d-ti mers"
the zone of l egi ti mate
peri pheral
parti ci pati on
Figure 30. Trajectory of learning in a community of practice.
Engeström (1996) has compared three approaches to learning that
share the focus on practice, culture, activity and tools. These include
the Davydovian model of learning by formation of theoretical
concepts. A child learns, with the teachers help, to analyze the content
of the curricular material and identify a primary general relationship in
it. When the child continues the analysis, he or she finds out that this
primary relationship is manifested in many different particular
relationships in the curricular material, and develops a generalization
of the subject under study. As this process goes on, the child eventually
is able to develop a kernel concept that subsequently serves the child
as a general principle that can be used in orienting within the
multiplicity of factual curricular material.
Underlying the Davydovian model is the Vygotskian idea that
scientific concepts are fundamental in the development of advanced
mental functions. Although the Davydovian model may at first look
like making children little scientists through acquisition of abstract
theories about laws of nature and society, the model actually views
teachingnot as a method to put scientific knowledge into the head of
a childbut as a method to help a child to develop advanced mental
functions. In this sense, the Davydovian approach tries to make
children more intelligent. In contrast to everyday spontaneous
concepts, scientific or theoretical concepts are systems that profoundly
change thinking:
Scientific concepts, with their hierarchical system of interrelation,
seem to be the medium within which awareness and mastery first
develop, to be transferred later to other concepts and other areas of
thought. Reflective consciousness comes to the child through the
portals of scientific concepts. (Vygotsky, 1986:171)
Although Vygotsky used the term scientific concepts, more
widely they could be seen as theoretical concepts that embody systems
of cultural development. This contrasts with the view implicitly
adopted in much of school learning where, instead of enculturation, the
focus typically is on empirical facts, description, and classification of
phenomena (Engeström, 1996:160). In the Davydovian model, the goal
of learning is development of thinking, not internalization of facts and
theorieswhich, in any case, would be irrelevant without the
capability to process them.
In the Davydovian model, the goal is not the acquisition of
knowledge embedded in a textbook. Instead, it aims at reconstruction
of an open context of discovery through practical actions by the
students. In contrast, Lave and Wenger focus on the context of
practical social application. Engeström comments on the Davydovian
and the community of practice models of learning:
The Davydov solution to the encapsulation of school learning is to
create such powerful intellectual tools in instruction that students can
take them into the outside world and grasp its complexities with the
help of those toolsThe legitimate peripheral participation approach
would break the encapsulation the other way around, by creating
genuine communities of practice within schools or perhaps by
partially replacing school learning with participation in such
communities of practice outside school. (Engeström, 1996:168)
According to Engeström, these modes of learning can be integrated
in a learning model that is based on learning by expanding. This
requires that the learners have an opportunity to analyze systematically
and critically the learning activity itself. This provides the context of
criticism, and generates a meta-level understanding of the subject
under study, including its relations to other communities of practice.
Within this view, the object of learning is the relationships between the
context of criticism, the context of discovery, and the context of
practical social application (Engeström, 1996:165). In this view, school
learning would be integrated in networks of learning that transcend the
institutional boundaries of the school in a process of self-organized
social transformation.
As was pointed out above, those researchers who have taken the
approach of social practice have conceptualized also individual
learning as inherently and fundamentally social, even questioning the
nature of identity of individuals. For example, Engeström uses the
concept of zone of proximal development in analyzing changing work
practice. His interventionistic and developmental approach could be
characterized as a theory of generating and negotiating best
practices, but in a context where these practices are tightly bound to a
system of activity and the underlying communities of people.
Engeström emphasizes also the role of collective generation of new
Our concept of zone of proximal development may be provisionally
defined as the distance between the present everyday actions for the
individuals and the historically new form of the societal activity that
can be collectively generated as a solution to the inner contradictions
embedded in the everyday actions. (Engeström & Engeström,
10.3.3 Sources of learning
In the current literature on learning theory, it has been common to
emphasize the role of experience as a source of learning (Miettinen,
1998b). If we combine the views of Bergson, Maturana and Varela and
Vygotsky, we can see that there are three possible sources of learning
for a living being. First, as a biological unit interacting with its
environment, the intelligent being can learn from its interactions with
environment. Second, as an intelligent self-referential system, it can
learn from itself. Third, as a member in a social community, it can
learn from other members of this community. The first alternative was
emphasized by behaviorists, the second by cognitive theorists, and the
last alternative has been prominent in social learning theories.
A special case of self-referentiality is that of language. Language
makes it possible to articulate and intentionally communicate
knowledge. This can happen, for example, by training, or by sharing
stories about experiences and worldviews. There are, however, also
non-linguistic modes of reflective social learning. These include
situations where the learner observes social behaviors and builds
models of them, for example, based on his or her beliefs about human
behavior. Such self-referential nonverbal changes are changes in the
meaning system. The third form of learning in the social domain is
simple social coordination, which happens directly, without reflection
about the meaning of the activity. Using the terminology of Leontev,
one could say that in the course of development intentional and
reflective acts may transform into automatic operations. For example, a
novice jazz musician may reflect on playing a specific harmony, but
after some learning, focus on playing well. Yet, this playing well may
be a fundamentally social activity.
Similarly, if we focus on individual cognition as a source of
learning, self-referential verbal learning could be equated with verbal
and conceptual thinking, in the Vygotskian sense. In this mode, change
is produced by internal operations that change the meaning structure.
Internal speech is used as a cognitive tool to control these meaning
processes, at the same time guaranteeing that thought can be
articulated in a social context. A second mode of internal learning is
imagination. By this I denote meaning processing which is non-
conceptual and which is not based on language. This mode is still self-
referential and therefore can be conscious. In contrast to these
meaning-processing activities that are intelligent in the sense of
Bergson, one can also learn through intuition. This is learning that
happensat least partlyoutside the self-referential meaning
processing system. Indeed, according to Bergson, only intuition can
create true novelty, as the function of intelligence is to find regularity
and repeatability. It should, however, be noted that within the social
domain also intelligence may be creative, for example, in creating new
language and concepts. However, intuition remains the function by
which human cognition is able to transcend the world of intelligence,
and which plays an important part in feeding intelligence with insights
that eventually may become central components in the meaning
As a living cognitive body, a human being can also learn by its
interactions with the environment. When experience is articulated at
the level of languaging, new spontaneous concepts are formed. Such
spontaneous concepts that are triggered by environmental interactions
may be called spontaneous empirical concepts. In the generation of
spontaneous empirical concepts, the changes in the meaning system are
triggered by the environment. Empirical spontaneous concepts,
therefore, relate to perception.
Environment can also be a source of learning in providing
feedback on our behavior. When we put the world into a test and
observe its results, this can happen on nonverbal level. However, if
such a test is intentional comparison of our mental models of the world
with the world itself, it is experiental meaning processing, where we,
as cognitive individuals, reflect against the world using reflection-in-
action. This can happen on two levels. In Piagets terms, we can
assimilate or accommodate our models. When the change occurs
without cognitive reflection, this mode of learning may be called skill
acquisition. This refers to activities such as motor skills, for example,
driving a bicycle. In contrast to tacit socialization, where behavior
happens in the social domain, in skill acquisition behavior happens in
interaction with the non-social world. It should be noted, however, that
in both cases fully developed humans infuse the world with the social
dimension. So, for example, driving a bicycle could also be seen
inherently socialas driving a socially constructed bicycle that is
intended to be a tool and product in a world full of roads. It may,
indeed, be difficult to dig through all the layers of human development
to find pure non-referential learning.
If we combine the Bergsonian and Vygotskian views, we could say
that there is no intelligent behavior left in fully developed humans that
would be purely non-referential, and that only direct intuition could
qualify for non-referential cognition. Therefore, the division of self and
environment is not a very useful in the case of intuitive learning.
Intuition was after all, according to Bergson, dependent on some kind
of fusion and sympathy between the environment and the living
cognitive being. Outside the system of self-referential meaning
processing the difference between self and environment more or less
These different modes of learning are summarized in Table 11. It
should be noted, however, that the unit of analysis assumed in the table
is a cognitive individual-in-society. The modes of learning also refer
only to ontogenic change.

As in all living phenomena, such characterizations should be understood to be only
simplified sketches. There is no logically complete list of attributes that would put the
sources of change into the environment or to the self. However, in practical cases
there are internal processes, such as thinking and dreaming, which are, of course,
eventually connected to external triggers, but where the actual processing is
predominantly internal.
Source of
behavioral change
Environment Society Self
(mode: verbal)
generation of
training, generation
of scientific
participation in
(mode: non-
linguistic self-
(mode: non-
habit formation,
skill acquisition
tacit socialization intuition
Table 11. Modes, sources and processes of ontogenic learning.
Within the Vygotskian framework, we could say that those authors
who claim that learning or knowledge creation happens only on
individual level pay too little attention to the social nature of the
isolated individuals. In other words, they replace an individual-in-
society with an individual, and try to understand learning based on this
unit of analysis. Most authors share this individualistic view on
organizational learning. On the other hand, within the Luhmannian
framework we could say that those authors who explicitly discuss
learning on the organizational level typically miss the cognitive
microstructure and meaning processing underlying knowledge creation
and concept formation. Therefore, we need to develop a multi-level
theory that is able to discuss all the relevant units of analysis in
learning processes, without losing the connections between these. I
will do this below. First, however, I shall discuss an influential
knowledge creation model that has been proposed by Ikujiro Nonaka
and Hirotaka Takeuchi. This model currently represent the state-of-the-
art within the knowledge management literature. Therefore, it is
instructive to see how the theoretical concepts developed above can be
used to analyze this model.
10.4 The Nonaka-Takeuchi knowledge creation model
A major contribution to the theory and practice of knowledge
management has been provided by Ikujiro Nonaka. Indeed, much of
the recent interest in knowledge management can be traced back to
Nonakas earlier work (1988; 1991; 1994), and to the landmark
exposition of the subject by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995). It is
therefore interesting and illustrative to use the constructs developed
above to discuss the knowledge creation model described by Nonaka
and Takeuchi. In contrast to many earlier discussions on organizational
knowledge or innovation, their model is dynamic, addressing the
question on how knowledge emerges in organizations in the first place,
and how it is transformed into concepts, models, artifacts, and
structures that change organizational behavior. Their model is also
interesting because it tries to explicate the various units of analysis that
interact in organizational knowledge creation. In this section, I shall
show that the constructs proposed above cover the phenomena
discussed by Nonaka and Takeuchi, and thatusing the theory
developed abovewe can point some areas where the Nonaka-
Takeuchi model may be extended. I shall argue, however, that there are
some important aspects of knowledge generation that do not become
visible within the Nonaka-Takeuchi model. Most important, the
constructs developed above lead to different practical
recommendations for organizing and managing knowledge creation
within actual organizations.
Following Polanyi, Nonaka and Takeuchi base their model on
dynamic interaction between two types of knowledge. Tacit
knowledge, according to Nonaka and Takeuchi, is personal, context-
specific, and therefore hard to formalize and communicate. Explicit
knowledge, in contrast, refers to knowledge that is transmittable in
formal, systematic language (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995:59).
According to Nonaka and Takeuchi, tacit knowledge includes
cognitive and technical elements. The cognitive elements include
mental models, such as schemata, paradigms, perspectives, beliefs, and
viewpoints, and they help individuals to perceive and define their
world. The technical elements, on the other hand, include concrete
know-how, crafts, and skills.
The central idea in Nonaka-Takeuchi model is that new knowledge
is created in articulation of tacit mental models, in a kind of
mobilization process (1995:60). In this process, tacit knowledge is
converted into explicit form. Although new knowledge is, strictly
speaking, created only by individuals according to Nonaka and
Takeuchi, knowledge creation does not happen within a single
Our dynamic model of knowledge creation is anchored to a critical
assumption that human knowledge is created and expanded through
social interaction between tacit knowledge and explicit
knowledgeIt should be noted that this conversion is a social
individuals and not confined
an individual.
The transformation of knowledge between different forms is a bi-
directional process. Tacit knowledge becomes explicit, but explicit
knowledge also becomes tacit. Corresponding to the four possible
types of knowledge conversion, there are four conversion modes. Tacit
knowledge transforms to tacit knowledge through socialization; tacit
knowledge transforms to explicit knowledge through externalization;
explicit knowledge is converted to explicit knowledge through
combination; and explicit knowledge transforms to tacit knowledge
through internalization. Nonaka refers to this knowledge creation
model as the SECI model (Nonaka & Konno, 1998). Innovative
learning and knowledge creation is in this model understood as
conversion of tacit knowledge into explicit forms where it can be
combined, followed by an internalization process where this new
combined knowledge becomes a part of the learners knowledge
structure. This model is shown in Figure 31.
Soci al i zati on
External i zati on
Combi nat i on
Internal i zati on
Taci t
knowl ed
Expl i ci t
knowl ed
Taci t
knowl ed
Expl i ci t
knowl ed
Figure 31. Nonaka-Takeuchi learning cycle.
According to Nonaka and Takeuchi, an individual can acquire tacit
knowledge directly from others without using language (1995:62).
This socialization process happens through observation, imitation,
practice, and shared experience. Externalization, on the other hand, is a
process of articulating tacit knowledge into explicit concepts. In that
process, tacit knowledge takes the shape of metaphors, analogies,
concepts, hypotheses, and models. These wemore or less
successfullytry to express using language. Among the various forms
of knowledge conversion, externalization holds the key to knowledge
creation, because it creates new, explicit concepts from tacit
knowledge (1995:66). The third mode of knowledge conversion,
combination, is the process of systemizing concepts into a knowledge
system, and it integrates different bodies of explicit knowledge. This
includes such activities as sorting, adding, and categorizing explicit
knowledge. According to Nonaka and Takeuchi, knowledge creation
carried out in formal education and training at schools usually takes
this form (1995:67). In business contexts, one of the main roles of
middle management is to create new concepts through combining
various sources of organizational knowledge (Nonaka, 1988).
Internalization, the fourth conversion mode, is a process of embodying
explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge. Experiences through
socialization, externalization, and combination are internalized into
individuals tacit knowledge bases in the form of shared mental models
or technical know-how, and therefore become valuable assets
Organizational knowledge creation is a continuous process where
the different modes of knowledge conversion interact. Nonaka and
Takeuchi describe this dynamic process as a knowledge spiral. In this
spiral of knowledge creation, the socialization mode starts with
building a field or space of social interaction (Nonaka & Takeuchi,
1995:70; Nonaka & Konno, 1998). After such a social interaction field
exists, externalization is triggered by meaningful dialogue that sustains
collective reflection. As a result, the combination mode is triggered by
networking and integrating the newly created knowledge with existing
stocks of explicit knowledge. Finally, learning by doing triggers
internalization. The different phases of knowledge conversion lead to
different knowledge contents:
Socialization yields what can be called sympathized knowledge,
such as shared mental models and technical skillsExternalization
outputs conceptual knowledgeCombination gives rise to
systemic knowledgeInternalization produces operational
knowledge (1995:71)
Based on these considerations, Nonaka and Takeuchi propose a
five-phase model of the organizational knowledge creation process.
The first phase consists of sharing tacit knowledge within the